Americans Don’t Buy “Religious Freedom” Argument Against Birth Control

A national poll conducted for Bloomberg News found that Republican candidates have wandered way off base in their recent public discussions of contraception. When asked “Do you believe birth control should or should not be part of the national political debate?,” a whopping 77 percent of respondents said the topic has no place in the political debate. The most important issues to respondents were unemployment (42 percent), the federal deficit (21 percent), gas prices (11 percent) and health care (10 percent). When asked whether the debate about insurance plans covering birth control was one of religious liberty or whether it was a matter of a woman’s health and access to birth control, 62 percent said it was a matter of a woman’s health and access to birth control. A majority of respondents would prefer religion not even be a major factor for the country’s leader. When asked to what extent a president’s religious beliefs should influence his federal policy decisions, 58 percent answered “Never.” A significant portion of respondents — 16 percent — said they did not identify with any organized religion at all. On another current topic, fully 53 percent thought Rush Limbaugh should lose his radio show based solely on his comments towards Sandra Fluke, the law school student who testified before Senate Democrats about access to birth control at religious universities. The poll was conducted by  Selzer and Company, Inc., of Des Moines, Iowa and was based on interviews with 1,002 U.S. adults age 18 or older. Respondents were called on randomly-selected landline and cell phone numbers. It was conducted March 8-11, 2011. The entire original Bloomberg Poll results can be accessed here (pdf).

NRC Dings Colorado for Botched Approval of New Uranium Mine

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) failed to hold proper public hearings before licensing a private energy company to build the first uranium mill in the country in decades. The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) held public meetings, rather than public hearings before licensing the mill, the latter being a formal legal proceeding that involves testimony under oath and cross-examination. Energy Fuels Resources Corporation asked the state to build the Pinion Ridge Uranium Mill in the Paradox Valley near Nucla in western Colorado to supply nuclear power plants and other technological users of radioactive material, but residents of western Colorado are wary. Past uranium mines have left an expensive, long-lasting and toxic legacy of contamination that cost taxpayers over a billion dollars to clean up. Western Colorado has been particularly hard-hit by these environmental disasters. Energy Fuels is enticing local residents to support the new mine by promising it

Map of U.S. uranium mines, showing high concentration in western Colorado

will supply high-paying jobs with health benefits. The Nucla area has fallen on economic hard times in recent years, so some residents are clamoring for the mine to be built to help turn the community around, but others who remember the past aren’t taking the bait. The state ordered Energy Fuels to pay $12 million in surety funds to pay for cleanup in case the mill contaminates water, soil or air, but opponents argue that amount is nowhere near enough, and they’re right. In 2010, the Denver Post found the cost of cleaning up environmental contamination caused by uranium mills in Colorado has ranged from $50 million to $504 per mill.

Main source: Denver Post, March 15, 2012

Secretive Republican Attack Group “Compass Colorado” Runs Anti-Obama Ads

Compass Colorado billboard

Billboards have just gone up across Grand Junction featuring Obama’s iconic campaign logo. At first glance — and that’s about all you get when driving by — all you see is the logo and it looks like the ads are pro-Obama. But if you look a split second longer, you see they are anti-Obama. The ads show someone in a pair of jeans, pulling out their empty pockets. Large wording over the photo says, “Still hoping for change?” The bottom of the board says has the website, “compasscolorado.org.”

Compass Colorado is a new conservative 501(c)4 political attack group formed in September, 2011 and headed by career Colorado Republican operative Tyler Quill “T.Q.” Houlton, who was Communications Director for Republican former Rep. Tom Tancredo. Rep. Tancredo gained fame for a speech he gave on February 4, 2010, to National Tea Party Movement Convention in which he said that Barack Obama won the presidency because of “people who could not even spell the word ’vote’ or say it in English.” He then proposed people undergo “a civics literacy test” as a prerequisite to voting.

Houlton also worked for Scott McInnis’ failed campaign for governor of Colorado. That campaign imploded after it was revealed that McInnis had plagiarized an extensive essay about water law that a nonprofit group had paid him to write. McInnis blamed the plagiarism on an elderly research assistant and refunded the $300,000 the organization had paid him.

Not much has been heard from McInnes since.

Tyler Q. Houlton

Like other conservative attack groups, Compass Colorado doesn’t reveal its donors, so we don’t know who is really behind the ads they are running. Compass Colorado’s first target was Democratic Colorado State Senator Evie Hudak of Westminster, Colorado, a former teacher and member of the Colorado Board of Education. Last election season, Compass Colorado took out $60,000 worth of TV ads to attack Sen. Hudak over her support for Proposition 103, a ballot measure that sought to increase the state income tax to help fund K-12 education. (K-12 education is now suffering financially to such an extent in Colorado that school districts across the state are moving to 4-day school weeks.) Compass Colorado also was behind robocalls attacking Proposition 103. Houlton narrated the robocalls, which went out to approximately 100,000 Colorado voters.

The domain name “CompassColorado.org” is registered to Domains by Proxy in Scottsdale, Arizona, — an entity that exists purely for the purpose of keeping domain registrations secret.  Why is Compass Colorado so secretive about their funders and domain name registration? We won’t find out, unless Tyler Houlton and his Republican funders start believing in transparency and informing voters about who is really doing the attacking.

“Bad Acts” Describes Tobacco Industry Interference in DOJ Case

A soon-to-be-published new book tells the hidden story of how the Bush Administration intervened to protect Big Tobacco from the 1999 U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) lawsuit filed under President Clinton. The book is authored by Sharon Eubanks, the DOJ attorney who headed up the team that won the multi-billion dollar Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) case against the industry, and Stanton Glantz, head of the University of California San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. “Bad Acts” tells what happened behind-the-scenes — the politics, the litigation, the behavior of the tobacco industry and its lawyers as the Bush Administration worked to gut the case just as the DOJ’s team was approaching victory. The book is currently in production and will ship in mid-May. It can be ordered in hardback at $28.50 from the American Public Health Association. (The price is lower if you are an APHA member). To see a description and pre-order the book, click here.

Goldman Exec Resigns, Blows Whistle on Company’s Loss of Morals

Goldman CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein

If you read just one thing today, it should be the remarkable open resignation letter of Goldman Sachs’ executive Greg Smith, who was head of  the firm’s U.S. equity derivatives business for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. After a highly successful 12 year career with Goldman, Smith — a Rhodes scholar — explains that felt he could no longer tolerate working Goldman because of the severe downward trajectory of its corporate culture, and the company’s loss of moral fiber. “I can honestly say that the environment [at Goldman] now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it,” he wrote, explaining that best interests of clients is now not even on Goldman’s radar screen. The only thing that matters now behind closed doors at Goldman, Smith says, is how to make money off of clients. The clients’ goals, desires and best interests are of absolutely no interest anymore. “It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off,” Smith writes, confessing that over the previous 12 months he’s personally witnessed five different managers refer to their own clients as “muppets,” even doing so over corporate email.  He lays the blame for the company’s completely loss of integrity on the current CEO, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and Goldman’s president, Gary D. Cohn. Smith formally resigned the day his open letter was published in the New York Times.

Source: New York Times Op-Ed, March 14, 2012

How Do You Like it, Guys?

Ohio state Senator Nina Turner (D-Cleveland) has introduced a bill to regulate men’s access to erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs. The bill mandates that prior to getting a prescription for Viagra, Cialis or similar ED medications, men would have to undergo a session with a sex therapist, have a cardiac stress test and obtain a notarized affidavit signed by a sexual partner affirming impotency. Turner’s bill adheres to guidelines issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which recommend that prior to prescribing erectile dysfunction drugs, doctors determine whether a male patient’s sexual dysfunction is due to physical or psychological causes. Turner explains that she is concerned about men’s reproductive health, and says if state policymakers introduce bills subjecting women to ultrasound tests before getting an abortion, legislators should also be able to legislate male reproductive health issues.

The Lap Band Trap

One of the ubiquitous L.A. billboards advertising lap band surgery.

Billboards showing up across the U.S. encourage people to shed extra pounds by undergoing lap band surgery. The ads leverage people’s insecurities about their weight to drive them to an expensive and risky surgical solution. A particularly aggressive lap-band billboard campaign has plagued image-conscious southern California for months. Huge ads along L.A. freeways screamed, “Lose weight with the lap-band! Safe, 1-hour, FDA-approved. 1-800-GET THIN”. The ads made lap-band surgery sound fast and easy. They were also practically inescapable. One L.A. freeway had 25 lap-band billboards in just a four-mile stretch, and the boards were up for months alongside most of southern California’s freeways. They bore no information about the qualifications needed for the surgery, or the risks it poses — not even in fine print. People who dialed 1-800-GET THIN heard an automated greeting from a “celebrity physician” assuring them the lap band is approved by the FDA and is “extremely effective” at helping people lose weight. But just like the billboards, the telephone recording didn’t mention any risks, contraindications or qualifications to get the surgery. In addition to the ubiquitous billboards, 1-800-GET THIN ads also appeared in newspapers, on bus placards, on TV and the Internet, featuring people who claimed to have shed huge amounts of weight and regained control over their lives through lap-band surgery.

Dangerous Ads, Bad Doctors

Many people who called 1-800-GET THIN found they got more than they bargained for — way more, and not in a good way.  Laura Faitro was one of those people.

Ms. Faitro underwent the lap band surgery after calling 1-800 GET THIN. The procedure was performed in a day-surgery suite of an office building, and her insurance covered just $3,000 of the $12,200 cost. During the procedure, her doctor lacerated her liver and called other doctors in to assist him. He discharged Ms. Faitro shortly after her surgery, even though she complained of severe abdominal pain. Soon after the doctor sent her home, she had to go to the emergency room for her  abdominal pain. Five days later, Ms. Faitro was dead from “multi-organ failure due to shock secondary to bleeding and sepsis” in her abdominal cavity. Her husband, John Faitro, recently filed a class action against the surgery centers that advertised the procedure. But why a class action if this was an isolated case?

Because it’s not an isolated case.

Laura Faitro is one of at least five southern California patients who lost their lives after responding to the 1-800-GET THIN ads and having lap-band surgery done at one of the clinics affiliated with the ad campaign. The clinics were operated by two doctors, Michael and Julian Omidi, brothers affiliated with a Beverly Hills medical business called TopSurgeons. Investigation later revealed that Julian Omidi’s medical license had been revoked after the California Medical Board found he had lied on his license application. He omitted information from his application that would have led the Board to discover that, while attending the University of California at Irvine from 1986-1990, he had been expelled over his involvement in the burglary of exam papers. The California Medical Board also sanctioned Julian’s brother, Michael, with three years’ probation for gross negligence in his treatment of liposuction patients in 2005. Michael Omidi had improperly administered anesthetics, and allowed unlicensed staff to suture up patients and even perform liposuction.

In December, 2011, FDA took action against 1-800-GET THIN-affiliated clinics and their misleading ad campaign. That same month, FDA issued a warning to consumers about the fraudulent lap band surgery ads, and the risks and side effects of such surgery.  FDA has also issued warning letters to advertisers about misleading lap band surgery ads. In February, 2012, Allergan, manufacturer of the lap-band, announced that it would  stop selling the device to surgery centers affiliated with the 1-800-GET THIN ads. On February 8, 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported on a whistleblower lawsuit by two former surgery center employees who allege that clinics affiliated with the 1-800-GET THIN ads operated unsanitary surgical facilities and padded their bills with extra charges for medically unnecessary procedures and surgeries they never actually performed.

Widespread, Uncritical Promotion of Lap Band Surgery

Lap band billboard in Grand Junction, Colorado

Despite the lap-band surgery debacle unfolding in California, the multiple deaths associated with the lap-band and FDA’s growing number of warnings about lap-band ads and about the procedure itself, direct-to-consumer advertising for lap-bands is now spreading throughout the country. Messages pushing the surgery are targeting weight-conscious consumers across a range of media. On January 26, 2012, for example, an NBC TV affiliate in Grand Junction, Colorado, ran a completely uncritical local TV news story about lap-band surgery. The report focused on a single patient who so far has suffered no ill effects from the surgery. Like the ads that flooded L.A., the NBC story failed to mention any potential side effects, risks, qualifications or contraindications for the surgery, or FDA’s ongoing sanctions against advertisers for misleading ads that make the procedure sound quick and simple. Nor did the report mention lap-band patients’ deaths. Coincidentally, the NBC news report appeared at the same time billboards started showing up in Grand Junction promoting lap-band surgery. While the ads are less aggressive than California’s, they still lack any warnings about the risks or side effects of the procedure, as required by FDA. A call to the reporter at the Grand Junction NBC affiliate who did the lap band story said she was unaware that billboards promoting the procedure had gone up at the time she did the news report, and insisted the idea for the story was entirely her own.

Typical lap-band ad graphic

FDA continues to post consumer updates on the serious risks and side effects of gastric bands. They also post information about serious patient complaints about lap-bands, like this one, where a lap band slipped and left “three quarters” of the patient’s stomach “in a necrotic state.” The patient complained of throwing up for days, got dehydrated, and developed a rapid heart beat. It wasn’t until emergency surgery was done that doctors discovered her lap-band had slipped.

So far, advertisers have ignored FDA requirements that they make people aware of the dangers and side effects of bariatric surgery. That could be intentional. If they perform this type of operation purely as an elective surgery on people who don’t fit the medical qualifications, the surgery must be paid for out of pocket, without the involvement of insurance companies. That makes the procedure a cash cow for surgical centers and doctors who perform it, which explains the ubiquity of the ads promoting it.

Granted, lap band surgery has the potential to greatly benefit some people who are medically qualified for the procedure and who work with reputable doctors to have the surgery done properly, with appropriate follow-up care. But common sense dictates that the right way to decide to undergo a risky surgical procedure is not from reading roadside billboards put up by ruthless doctors who care more about money than patient care. Every surgical procedure has risks. Before considering gastric surgery, people need to do a lot of homework, ask a lot of questions, and thoroughly weigh the pros and cons. Lap-band surgery should draw even more scrutiny because of the insidious and dangerous way it is being marketed to large numbers of clueless people — many of whom, like so many of us, are undoubtedly insecure about their weight, and lack  a medical education.

 

DOJ Blocks Texas Voter ID Law as Unnecessary and Discriminatory

The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) has blocked a new Texas voter ID law that requires citizens show photo ID before they can vote. Under the law, people had to produce a state-issued driver’s license, Department of Public Safety ID card or concealed handgun license before they could vote. Student IDs from Texas colleges and universities were not acceptable forms of ID. The state’s Republican-led legislature passed the law last year, making Texas one of eight states that have passed such laws. Texas legislators claimed the law was necessary to prevent voter fraud, but the DOJ found little evidence that voter fraud was enough of a problem in Texas to warrant the law. Justice Department officials, relying on Texas statistics, concluded that the law could have a discriminatory impact on minorities, particularly Hispanics. “Hispanics make up only 21.8 percent of all registered voters [in Texas], but fully 38.2 percent of the registered voters who lack these forms of identification.,” said Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez.

Source: CNN, March 12, 2012

Know Your Slime

Photo of beef pink slime, provided by its manufacturer, Beef Products, Inc.

Mechanically-separated chicken

A photo that has been published recently alongside articles on “pink slime” — the highly-processed, barely-beef byproduct ABC News revealed last week is commonly added to hamburger — is not actually “pink slime,” but another scary byproduct called “mechanically separated chicken,” reportedly used to make chicken nuggets. A March 5 article on Common Dreams titled “What’s on the School Cafeteria Menu? ‘Pink Slime,’ ” for example, mistakenly showed a photo of mechanically-separated chicken pink slime while discussing beef-based pink slime. Mind you, it’s an easy mistake to make. Mechanically-separated chicken more closely resembles a pink slime than even beef pink slime. In the oft-circulated photo of mechanically-separated chicken, a ribbon of bright pink, gelatinous mixture oozes out of a huge spigot looking like a giant, curling stream of strawberry flavor self-serve yogurt.

Yuck.

But it isn’t beef-based pink stuff, it’s chicken-based pink stuff.

People need to get their slime photos straight, so readers are clear on which super-gross food byproduct big agribusiness is attempting to feed us.

What’s in Your Burger? Former USDA Scientists Say “Pink Slime”

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Former U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist-turned whistleblower Gerald Zirnstein revealed a dirty little secret of the meat industry to ABC News: 70 percent of  hamburger meat sold in grocery stores contains “pink slime,” a cheap and dangerous filler made of rejected beef trimmings that at one time were only used to make dog food and cooking oil. Pink slime is made from the least-desirable beef scraps, like connective tissue, tendons, and gristle. The scraps are ground up and simmered at low heat, then put in a centrifuge and spun to separate the fat from the meat. The resulting mixture is then sprayed with ammonia gas — ostensibly to to kill bacteria — then shaped into bricks, flash-frozen and shipped to grocers and meat packing companies where it is combined with ground beef. Understandably, the meat industry doesn’t like the name “pink slime.” It prefers to call the additive “lean, finely-textured ground beef.” Thanks to Joann Smith, USDA undersecretary under George W. Bush, pink slime doesn’t have to be labeled as a byproduct, either, and grocers don’t have to let consumers know it is in their meat. Smith made the decision to label the stuff “meat” against the urging of Zirnstein and another USDA scientist, Carl Custer, who call pink slime a “high risk product,” since the trimmings come from the most contaminated parts of many cows. In making her decision, Smith reportedly said that the mixture “is pink, therefore it’s meat.” While at USDA, Smith had ties to the beef industry. She was president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association and the National Cattlemen’s Association. ABC News found out that after Smith left the USDA in 1993, the manufacturers of pink slime, Beef Products, Inc., appointed her to its board of directors, where she has since made around $1.2 million over 17 years. After their report on pink slime, ABC News was inundated with questions from viewers about how to avoid the substance at grocery stores. The answer? Look for meat stamped “USDA Organic.” It is pure meat that contains no fillers. Everything else could contain pink slime since the law doesn’t require it to be revealed on the label.